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Strangers in Strange Lands

Remembering the 1762 Cherokee Delegation to London

By Laura Harbold | HUMANITIES, September/October 2005 | Volume 26, Number 5

"As to the manners of the Indians, I grant they have been often represented, and yet I have never seen any account to my perfect satisfaction," wrote Virginia lieutenant Henry Timberlake in his 1765 Memoirs. The Memoirs detail his experience with the Cherokee at the end of the French and Indian War. Responsible for honoring the terms of a peace treaty, Timberlake spent three months in the Overhill towns of the Little Tennessee River Valley. He attended town councils, dances, and feasts, living in the home of Chief Ostenaco in Tommotly. In 1762, Ostenaco and two other Cherokee leaders convinced Timberlake to escort them to London, where they met with King George III.

Timberlake's Memoirs provide the background for "Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee/British Delegations," a traveling exhibition developed at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in North Carolina. The exhibition uses Timberlake's observations, eighteenth-century Cherokee artifacts, and British newspaper accounts to examine the encounters between the cultures.

"We're trying to look at both cultures from the perspective of people who were experiencing them for the first time," says Duane King, director of the Southwest Museum of the Cherokee Indian. A Timberlake scholar, King is helping to develop the exhibition.

Although the Cherokee had been British allies during the French and Indian War, the practice of offering bounties for enemy scalps ended the accord. British frontiersmen murdered a group of Cherokee warriors, hoping to pass their scalps off as those of French allies. The Cherokee retaliated, attacking settlements in North Carolina. Subsequent attacks by British armies destroyed dozens of Cherokee towns, King says.

Timberlake's Virginia regiment was marching to attack the Cherokee town of Chota when it was intercepted by a Cherokee peace delegation that succeeded in restoring an alliance between the nations, King says.

Although he risked death if hostilities broke out again, Timberlake volunteered himself as a representative to the Cherokee. "When he was in Overhill country, Timberlake found everything he saw and did fascinating," King says.

"I was almost every night at some dance or diversion," Timberlake wrote. The Cherokee often presented him with peace pipes as gestures of respect. On one occasion, he noted, "I was almost suffocated with the pipes presented to me on every hand, which I dared not to decline. They might amount to about one hundred and seventy or one hundred and eighty; which made me so sick, that I could not stir for several hours."

Not long after Timberlake's arrival in Overhill country, he attended a town council meeting in Chota at which Ostenaco declared, "The bloody tommahawke, so long lifted against our brethren the English, must now be buried deep, deep in the ground, never to be raised again."

To strengthen the peace treaty, "Ostenaco, in particular, said it was important for him to see King George III," King says. Ostenaco persuaded Virginia's governor to approve a journey to London and enlisted Timberlake as an escort.

Timberlake, Ostenaco, and two other Cherokee leaders, Cunneshote and Woyi, set sail for England in May 1762. "The Cherokees did not speak English, and Timberlake spoke only minimal Cherokee," King says. "According to the British press, they made their wishes known by hand signals."

When the group came ashore in England, Timberlake wrote, Ostenaco stood in the bow of the ship and chanted a song of thanks. "The loudness and uncouthness of his singing, and the oddity of his person, drew a vast crowd of boats . . . and the landing-place was so thronged, that it was almost impossible to get to the inn."

In London, the Cherokee delegation was entertained by political leaders and escorted to sites such as Exeter Cathedral and Vauxhall Gardens. "They were forever teizing me to take them to some public diversion," Timberlake wrote.

"The Cherokees, when they were in London, found that culture strange and different," King says. "It's very obvious that, like Timberlake, they were strangers in a strange land."

Timberlake acted as interpreter when Ostenaco addressed King George, declaring his loyalty and desire for peace. "They were struck with the youth, person, and grandeur of his Majesty, and conceived as great an opinion of his affability as of his power," he wrote.

The Cherokee delegation's visit to London helped to secure the Proclamation Line of 1763, which forbade white settlers from claiming land west of the Appalachian Mountains. "It cemented the peace between the Cherokees and the British so that even during the American Revolution, the Cherokee loyalties remained with the British," King says.

About the Author

Laura Harbold, a junior at Dickinson College, was an intern at NEH.

Funding Information

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian received a $300,000 grant from NEH for "Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee/British Delegations," which opens October 25.